Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How to come to terms with the past...

[Post updated in the early morning of 3 Aug] Just found the below clip from Lam Fai's blog. He said it almost made him cry that day when he heard the speech at the Queen's Pier... Now thanks to Youtube, I also have the honour to hear 朱凱迪's heart-rending description of the little-known history of civic participation in Hong Kong, and have no qualms about letting my tears fall for Hong Kong while in the comfort of my Dublin home...

What made me sad is that, if I had not happened upon Lam's blog, I would never have known that, actually, the protestors have a much more comprehensive understanding of the historical significance of the Queen's Pier than HK mainstream media (and indeed much of the HK blogosphere) gave them credit for. Indeed, if I never stumbled upon Lam's blog, I would have thought that the protestors really didn't have a clue what they were protesting about, that there was not one charismatic speaker in the group who could articulate their protest rationale clearly, that it was the government who has "won" the argument...

I am really grateful to find that these impressions are but smokescreens that sought to mislead the public (unfortunately they succeeded). Chu's speech is a wake-up call to Hong Kong people that "the history of Hong Kong is not just about how we turned from a fishing village into a cosmopolitan city. No, we are so much more than that." That our history is not simply about how economically-successful we have been, but there also exists a rich history of citizen action that we have ignored, let alone celebrate. But it is precisely this history which is crucial to how HK people develop socially and politically.

The significance of Queen's Pier lies in the very special role it has played over the decades in providing the space for the public expression of civic dissent against government policies. Its importance lies NOT in its uniqueness within the city's architectual heritage, and its significance is NOT even so much about protecting our colonial past, but in being an invaluable public space that enabled the expression of citizens' discontent with prevailing government policies, both pre- and post-1997. That for 40 years, scores of Hong Kong people have utilised the Queen's Pier as the place to voice their dissent, dissent that ultimately led to the official recognition of Chinese language under the British administration, the legal protection of workers' and women's rights, etc.... The Queen's Pier is thus the birth place for civic participation in Hong Kong, and its significance is therefore on a par with the Washington Monument in the U.S., which became significant not because its obelisk was a particularly notable piece of architecture, but because of Dr. Martin Luther King's Million People March. This truly "public" space, with its distinguished history of civic protest, is irreplaceable.

Words cannot express how despondent I am at the thought that such an important site in the history of civic participation in Hong Kong - a history that is especially important in the context of the current struggle for democracy in HK - will soon be covered under miles of highway tarmac... I'm so sorry that there is so little I can do...

Below is a commentary I wrote in response to a post by Yat Chee over at Diuman Park, who discussed the absurdity of the arguments being put forward by those HK people who actually support the destruction of the Queen's Pier. I like his efforts, but I actually think these silly excuses about our "shameful" past could be tackled differently - by taking their word and agreeing that it WAS shameful, but precisely because it was shameful, WE SHOULD NOT BE RUNNING AWAY FROM OUR PAST:


Even if "皇后碼頭" really has "too much" 殖民地色彩, and even if we all agree that monuments like it will "勾起當殖奴的苦難回憶" and are testaments to the 奇恥大辱 of the Qing dynasty, these are all the more reasons FOR preserving the Queen's Pier and Star Ferry, NOT AGAINST.

Look at how well the Jewish people work towards preserving the memories of the Holocaust! Nobody would deny that the Holocaust is one huge 奇恥大辱 for the Jews, and yet, unlike the Chinese, they assiduously preserve this important part of their past, because they want future generations to remember their history, warts and all. There's no airbrushing of shameful past by, let's say, replacing the Krakow concentration camp with shiny new buildings. No, the "shameful past" is preserved so that new generations would not forget the important lessons from the horrors of the Holocaust; and there are dedicated scholars who try their darnedest to preserve the oral histories of the few remaining Holocaust survivors.

Contrast that attitude with the Chinese government, which never really bothers with properly preserving the historical evidence and relics of the Japanese occupation, because history is never something high on their priority list, especially something to do with 國恥. The result is that, the administration just glosses over that part of the history, to the extent that it never offered any support to the rape victims of the Japanese army when they demanded legitimate reparations for the Japanese war crimes from the Japenese government. the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong ostensibly suppressed the mention of the Nanking Massacre from public discourse. Until very recently, the authorities have never bothered to properly preserve evidence of the Nanking massacre.

And the result of such denial? Elements of the far-right Japanese society pretend the Nanking massacre never really happened, that it was all a fantasy. AND their denial is enabled by the Chinese government's own passive denial of this shameful past. It doesn't look good to remind ourselves that we have been attacked and occupied by foreign powers. So we disregard anything connected with this part of our history. But does that really help us???? Destroying our past simply help other people re-write their versions of history for us. By remaining in denial that we have ever been victims of foreign powers in the past, it means we could never reclaim justice and are denying our future generations an important part of their heritage.

So please don't use that bullshit excuse of "oh, it's too shameful, let's erase that bit of history and pretend it never happened". That kind of immature attitude does not befit a people with thousands of years of history. Now that China is apparently bigger and better, we should be prepared to face our own history in the last century in its totality, warts and all. We have to come to terms with our past, even those apparently shameful bits*, because we are only cheating ourselves if we are to remain in denial.

*Clarification - I wrote "apparently shameful", because, in the case of HK being a British colony due to the unequal treaty, while the fact of its inception was indeed shameful, but that does NOT at all mean that for 99 years Hong Kong people have anything to be ashamed of. Far from it. HK peoople made the best of a bad situation and have done themselves proud. We have developed ourselves into a first class Asian city, with a highly-educated, highly-skilled, law-abiding and healthy populace. What's wrong then with being proud to be from Hong Kong? Generations of people have lived and worked in HK and made HK to be the city that it is today. Destroying our colonial heritage would not change the fact that the land we live on was indeed shamefully sold off to the British; it will only mean we're denying ourselves the opportunity to celebrate how far we have come from that shameful starting point.

In addition to the above, I also commented on the same event on Seechuen's blog. He was among the protestors on the day when they held a public debate at the Pier itself, with the promised attendance of the official in charge of overseeing the redevelopment of the site. Sadly, nothing came to fruition in the end, and the Queen's Pier was forcefully cleared of protestors...

Although I live overseas so unfortunately I cannot join you in your very legitimate protest, but am offering you guys my 110% moral support!

“政府半年前清拆天星時仍抵賴說它未足五十歲,故無法評級。” @@?? WTF?? I cannot believe the cheek of the Tsang administration! This stupid 50 year rule would mean the vast majority of built developments in the second half of the HK colonial years would be automatically disqualified for preservation, no matter how symbolically significant that piece of architecture is to the development of HK in becoming the city it is today. And now even when the Queen’s pier passes such draconian criterion for preservation, it is still NOT being preserved, so what’s the point of having it as a listed monument then??? What’s the point of having that “古物諮詢委員” at all if they are not going to carry out their proper remit??? According to what principles did the 發展局 operate its development strategy, if there was a properly thought-through strategy at all?? Was the public well informed and properly consulted?? How precisely?? Does the Tsang administration realise that its remit is to serve the public, first and foremost?? Could they still say that they are doing a “good job” of being a public servant if they don’t listen to the public at all?? Can that 林鄭月娥 answer the above questions without bullshiting?? I wait with bated breath…

p.s. Typos in my original comments are amended here.

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